How To Build a Healthy, Balanced Meal

To celebrate National Nutrition Week (10-16 October, 2021), Master of Dietetic Studies student Patrick has put together an easy how-to for balanced, healthy meals. 

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to WHAT and HOW MUCH we should eat at each meal. It depends on your age, weight, physical activity level, and most importantly, what you LIKE to eat.

However, there are some basic steps that can be used to build a healthy, balanced meal that can be both tasty and easy to prepare. These guidelines are backed by a large body of research that suggests we will be healthier, have a lower risk of chronic disease, and will meet all of our nutritional requirements, if we follow them when preparing meals.

So, what are the steps to building a healthy meal?

STEP 1: FILL HALF OF YOUR PLATE WITH NON-STARCHY VEGETABLES

Non-starchy vegetables include any vegetables that aren’t potatoes, peas and corn. Starchy vegetables are a great source of nutrition, but they should be included in the carbohydrate portion.

Vegetables are important for a healthy diet because they’re packed with key vitamins and minerals that you won’t find in other food groups. They’re also a great source of fibre. Not only has fibre been shown to reduce your risk of chronic disease but it also keeps you fuller for longer. Non-starchy vegetables are very low in calories and energy – meaning you get a lot of bang for your buck per serve.

STEP 2: FILL ¼ OF YOUR PLATE WITH COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES

Carbohydrates are the main source of energy in our diet, and they are also a great source of vitamins and minerals. However, not all carbohydrates are digested in the same way. It’s best to choose complex carbohydrates – this generally means carbohydrate-containing foods that are less processed. This can include wholegrain breads and cereals, the starchy vegetables we talked about above (potatoes, peas and corn), wholegrain pasta, brown rice and legumes.

STEP 3: FILL ¼ OF YOUR PLATE WITH A LEAN PROTEIN SOURCE

Protein is the building blocks for your body and a key part of any balanced diet. You can get a good source of lean protein from both animal foods – chicken, eggs, fish, lean beef, dairy – and from plant sources like tofu and legumes which includes foods like lentils, beans and chickpeas.

STEP 4: ADD A SMALL PORTION OF HEALTHY FATS

Fat is an important part of any balanced diet. However, like carbohydrates, it’s important to make sure we get the right type of fat. Unsaturated fats are linked to improved heart health and a lower risk of some chronic diseases. Good sources of unsaturated fats include extra virgin olive oil, nuts and seeds and avocado. Although fats are a key source of nutrients, it also has twice as much energy/calories per serve as carbohydrates and proteins, so we only need a small portion with each meal. Aim for about a thumbnail-sized portion of your fat source at each meal.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

Now that we know the four key steps to building a balanced meal, we can put them all together to create a delicious, healthy meal. The possibilities are endless!

Sometimes it’s better not to think of a plate when building the meals.  If you’re preparing a pasta or curry, think of a chopping board and how much each portion would take up on the board.

Here are some examples to kickstart your journey to building healthy meals! Why not give them a try?

Breakfast:

Scrambled egg on toast

Non-starchy vegetables: spinach, tomato and mushroom

Complex carbohydrate: wholegrain toast

Lean protein: 1-2 eggs

Unsaturated Fat: Small spread of avocado

Lunch:

Vegetarian burrito bowl

Non-starchy vegetables: cherry tomatoes, corn, capsicum

Complex carbohydrate: brown rice

Lean protein: black beans

Unsaturated Fat: ¼ diced avocado

Dinner:

Spaghetti Bolognese

Non-starchy vegetables: onion, celery, canned tomatoes, zucchini, mushroom

Complex carbohydrate: wholegrain spaghetti

Lean protein: extra-lean beef mince

Unsaturated Fat: 1 tablespoon olive oil

Last updated:
11 October 2021